Have you ever been told you are too much, too intense, or too sensitive?
Usually this comes with an equal dose of accusations of being not rational enough, not sensible enough, or not serious enough.
The truth is that whatever that thing you are “too much” of is probably your greatest asset. It may not seem like it right now. If you believe that you are too sensitive, you probably have developed habitual behaviour patterns to hide and minimize those parts of yourself. If this is the case, then you won’t have spent the time learning how being sensitive or intense in the particular ways you are can help you thrive. In which case, you have untapped potential.
The Problem with Minimizing Our Intensities and Sensitivities
Worse than untapped potential, you may have inadvertently caused yourself some harm. Our sensitivities and our intensities as our aliveness made manifest. Psychologist Steve Bearman of the Interchange Counseling Institute argues that depression and anxiety are disorders of managing aliveness.
Anxiety occurs when the too muchness is active and people are overwhelmed. Hyperarousal of the flight, fight, freeze response shuts down higher level cognitive functioning and blocks awareness of anything not related to the perceived danger.
Depression results when someone suppresses aliveness. It is not possible to only shut down the feelings that are too much A human body can only numb awareness of all feelings at the same amount, which is why supressing sadness, hurt, frustration and disappointment leads to an inability to feel joy, contentment, or happiness.
Why do sensitive and intense people hide themselves if it does this kind of damage?
When we are most alive, it can make people around us uncomfortable if they are not comfortable with their own passions. When people are uncomfortable in our presence, it is frequently psychologically easier for them to blame us than to feel their own discomfort and choose how to respond.
For sensitive people, this leaves us with a double whammy. We have our own reaction to their discomfort. And then, their blame makes us question ourselves. If we don’t have people around us to counter the blame, over time, we are likely to come to believe that we are blameworthy.
How can someone undo this damage?
Many of my clients have been living with mild to moderate anxiety or depression for decades. One of the greatest miracles I get to witness repeatedly is helping these clients change their actions and behaviours and seeing their anxiety or depression lift.
Please note that I do not advocate ruling out therapy and medication as possible sources of relief and healing. For some people dealing with anxiety or depression, treatment is needed to be able to get traction on making changes that reduce the stresses that caused the anxiety or depression in the first place. However, many of my clients have found therapy and medication are enough to make them functional but not enough to make them thrive, and that is where coaching comes in.
I am NOT a therapist. I do not attack anxiety or depression directly. I help people figure out what their values, wants, and needs are and how to use their values as motivation, and then I act as drill sergeant or cheerleader as necessary to help keep them taking action. The lifting of the anxiety or depression is a by-product of the external changes they make in their lives.
How to Recover Your Super Powers Hidden in Plain Sight
There is a 4-step process for recovering your super powers:
1. Identify your sensitivities and passions and the values they serve for you.
2. Reduce your reactivity.
3. Claim your intensities and passions as gifts.
4. Build the habit of using your gifts.
STEP ONE: Identify your sensitivities and passions and the values they serve for you.
Make a list of your sensitivities. You probably already know what they are. They are the things that excite you, stimulate you, and have other people tell you are too much. They are the things you react to intensely whether you want to or not. They are the things that piss you off, the things that make you jump for joy, and the things that make you laugh and cry.
Identify the values that are marked by the specific sensitivities. The things you are sensitive to or react intensely to are related to values that you hold. Identifying the values gives you a tool for choosing how to use the sensitivity as a gift. If something makes you angry, there is probably something you value that is being disrespected. For example, if people being late for meetings pisses you off, then you may value timeliness or respect. If you have a physical sensitivity to something, there is something you value that provides the relief. For example, if you are irritated by loud sounds, then you may value quiet or peace or solitude.
Often, we have values that could be thought of as variations on a theme. If you see patterns, give the theme a name. It can be useful to think of the theme as a whole when you come to deciding what habits to cultivate.
STEP TWO: Reduce your reactivity.
In order to claim the power in your sensitivities, you need to be able to choose how you respond to whatever you are sensitive about. If you are reactive, you are not in control. If, however, you notice that something is bugging you (or exciting you) and can take a moment to decide how you want to respond, you get to be in charge.
There are many ways to increase your ability to pause and make a decision. Pick one to practice. Here are a few possibilities:
* Meditation – any meditation practice that involves paying attention to what is happening right now and not jumping into thinking about what is happening right now.
* Imagine that you are an anthropologist or an alien studying yourself and your reactions to things.
* Practice taking 3 deep breaths before taking any action.
* Remind yourself during that day that you CAN pause and don’t have to take action.
Most of these are much easier to do in low stress settings. Practicing them in easy situations will make you more likely to have access to your ability to pause when things are more challenging.
The most important thing about reducing your reactivity is practicing being gentle and compassionate with yourself. You will be reactive. That is just life. With practice, you will get less reactive. When you notice you have been or are being reactive, know that this awareness itself is helping you become less reactive over time, and do what you can to recover to a non-reactive perspective.
STEP THREE: Claim your intensities and passions as gifts.
Use whatever tools you have to challenge the idea that your intensities and passions are a problem: journal, set healthy boundaries with people who disagree with you, use affirmations, put Post-it notes around the house to remind you, use an image that celebrates these parts of you as your phone or computer background or your featured images on social media. Get the people in your support network to remind you.
STEP FOUR: Build the habit of using your gifts.
Once you have identified your gifts and the associated values, it is time to start taking action. Start small, but start somewhere. When you actively choose to use these unique and special parts of yourself, you ignite a virtuous cycle of self-fulfillment.
An Example of Using Your Gifts: Dating
Ken Page, author of Deeper Dating: How to Drop the Games of Seduction and Discover the Power of Intimacy, calls our places of deepest sensitivity our Core Gifts. Everybody has different Core Gifts because everybody has different sensitivities and passions. Revealing our Core Gifts while dating does two things. 1) It assures that the people who like us truly see, and therefore like, the parts of us that make us most ourselves, and 2) people who respond to our Core Gifts by revealing their Core Gifts give us better information for deciding whether they will make good partners.
You Have Super Powers and You CAN Claim Them
It isn’t just in dating that understanding that our sensitivities are our best bits helps us thrive. This holds true for our whole lives. When you take action from the place of claiming these bests parts of yourself, you become the most alive and compelling version of yourself. Not only is it easier for you to have the impact you want with your life, you feel more fulfilled doing it.
It is, of course, much easier to write and read about these kinds of changes than it is to live them. If it were easy, you would have already done it. So, you need to build yourself a support structure: people and systems to function as cheerleaders and drill sergeants and accountability partners.
What support do you need?
You know from past experience what has helped you make changes in the past and what has gotten in the way. You know the people who say they want to help but end up not being helpful – stay away from them. Get the support YOU need, not the support you think is supposed to be helpful.
You may have a circle of friends and family who can be your support, but if you don’t, I would love to be of service.
And if you want to join a group of intense people who are figuring this out together, Thrive With Intensity starts in November.
Here’s to you and your Super Powers,